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Olympic news for September 29
Grand finale: The race of truth
By Jeff Jones
The last of the cycling events in Sydney are the men's and women's time trials, commencing at 9:00am on Saturday, September 30. Both are run over laps of a similar course to the road race, with the main differences being the addition of several corners in Centennial Park, and the cutting out of the Bronte descent and climb. The women will do two 15.6 kilometre laps (31.2 km) while the men do three laps for a total 46.8 kilometres.
The 24 women will set off at 90 second intervals and will go in two waves of 12 to avoid confusion with riders coming through for their second lap. The first group goes off at 9:00, and the second at 9:50, with the best riders starting last. Total times should be between 43 and 50 minutes for this type of course.
The defending champion is Russian Zulfia Zabirova, and she has showed some good form in the leadup to the Games winning the Tour de Suisse Femenin (August 30-September 2), aided by the very strong Acca Due O team. She will start last (at 10:06:30) but will have to try and catch Dutchwoman Leontien Zijlaard-Van Moorsel (10:05:00) who has two gold and one silver from three events in these Olympics. Despite dismissing her form at regular intervals, Van Moorsel is fooling nobody and has good handling skills to go with her incredible speed. The only question is whether she is tired from the race on Tuesday.
Third to last starter (10:03:30) will be German Hanka Kupfernagel, a noted time trialist and classy all round rider, and also in good form. Australia's Anna Wilson will be chased by the German, as she starts at 10:02:00. She would dearly love to add a medal to her Olympic campaign, but it will arguably be a tougher task than the road race.
Frenchwoman Jeannie Longo-Ciprelli (10:01:30) is surely riding her last Olympics and could easily pull off a podium ride. She is always dangerous by herself and the conditions should suit her more, with the prediction for warm sunny weather.
Others to watch out for in the field include Karen Kurreck (USA - 9:06:00), Tracey Gaudry (Aus - 9:07:30), Yvonne McGregor (GBr - 9:13:30), Diana Ziliute (Ltu - 9:53:00), Mari Holden (USA - 9:54:30) and Joane Somarriba (Spa - 9:56:00), Edita Pucinskaite (Ltu - 9:59:00)
The men's event gets underway at midday, with 38 riders on the starting sheet. The three laps should take 57 minutes for the fastest rider, and there will be some overlapping even though there are three waves of riders.
Last to start is World Champion Jan Ullrich (14:31:30) who already has one Olympic Gold medal, and would love to gain another one in his specialty event. Most have him rated as second at the moment for two reasons: a) the technical course and b) Lance Armstrong. The American has made no pretense that this is his last major goal of the season and has prepared for it in his usual meticulous manner. He will start second last at 14:30:00 and will be chasing Spaniard Abraham Olano.
Olano has had a mixed year, although with more success than in previous years, especially in the early half of the season. He finished the Vuelta along with his Spanish and ONCE teammate, Santos Gonzales and each rider won one of the time trials. He is considered a threat but Gonzales (14:16:30) may upstage him with his excellent handling skills.
The Ukraine's Serhiy Honchar will precede Olano at 14:27:00, however he has not shown brilliant form of late. On the other hand, Frenchman Laurent Jalabert (14:25:30) is always strong against the clock but may be upstaged by his teammate, Christophe Moreau (13:23:00).
Others to look out for included Canada's Eric Wohlberg (12:09:00) who could well be the early pace setter; Australia's Nathan O'Neill (13:09:30), David Millar (GBr - 13:17:00), Michael Andersson (Swe - 13:18:30), Chris Boardman (13:26:00), Alex Zuelle (14:19:30), Andreas Kloeden (Ger - 14:21:00), Raivis Belohvosciks (Lat - 14:22:30) and Tyler Hamilton (USA - 14:24:00)
Both events will be covered live by cyclingnews.com. 9:00 Sydney ESST, 0:00 Central European Summer Time and 18:00 US Eastern Daylight Time (note, this will be September 29 in the US).
Italian National Coach, Antonio Fusi has defended his choice of the almost, but not quite successful Italian men's team. "Now it is easy to speak, but I had to choose 45 days ago. I couldn't have done it any other way, because the conditions at the time did not allow it. I believe I made a conscientious choice," said Fusi.
"We believed in ourselves, and the team had worked well in order to meet the objectives we set. Things were working well, but then Bartoli and Bettini just missed the escape made by Telekom," added Fusi.
The results sheet told half the story for the five-man Australian team, with Robbie McEwen the best placed at 19th, Henk Vogels 30th (both at 1'38), Stuart O'Grady 77th at 7'06, and Scott McGrory and Matt White failing to finish. On the face of it, it was not spectacular - what had happened to 'our' Aussie lads?
Of course, the final result in a road race often belies what actually went on, but it's the only thing that counts in terms of medals. Robbie McEwen was unfortunate enough to puncture twice, being towed on each time by designated worker, Matt White. It's never easy to get back onto a bunch averaging 43.5 km/h with a short caravan, but that is part of racing. In the end, it didn't matter as McEwen was only sprinting for 14th.
The others also rode as hard as they could, and McGrory, O'Grady and Vogels were all up with the leaders on the last few laps. Then it fell apart after one devastating attack by Jan Ullrich. The Australians all went off the back of the chasing group and that was the end of the race. 215 kilometres out of 240 would be considered excellent for training purposes, but not in the Olympic Road Race.
Afterwards, they all commented that it was an extremely tough race on a tough circuit. 14 times up the Bronte climb at 35-40 km/h, combined with a few tight corners and brutally fast second half was enough to cause a selection amongst the world's best. As predicted by more than a few, there were no sprinters in contention for a medal at the finish, nor were there any pure climbers (Virenque and Pantani types). There was the possibility of it being a more negative affair like the women's race, but with a much larger field with comparatively less sprinters, that was unlikely to happen.
O'Grady and Vogels were Australia's two main hopes on this type of course, and both have very good credentials. Unfortunately for O'Grady, the broken collarbone he sustained in the Tour came at a bad time, and was not easily fixed like Brad McGee's. His lead up was not filled with outstanding results and he was therefore not at his absolute best on the day. Vogels has been riding well all year, with three wins and a couple of second places in UCI races. His biggest victory was in the USPRO Championships, on a parcours that was considered a reasonable benchmark for Sydney. However, that race did not contain all the top riders in the world; to be competitive in the Olympic road race, a few top placings in Classics were in order unfortunately.
The composition of the team could have been slightly different, but whether this would have made them into a medal winning team will never be known. There are always, "What if's" in cycling and these are sometimes useful for the future. However, the Olympic road race only comes once every four years and there is little room for experimentation. There was no question that the five riders rode to their absolute best, and Australian fans shouldn't feel let down by their end performance. However, what do you do against a quadruple Tour de France podium finisher, and World Time Trial champion?
Finally, spare a thought for Heiko Salzwedel, who at one time coached most of these Australians in one team. The professional AIS Giant-ZVVZ squad had big goals, and could have achieved a Tour de France start had it had the support of officials at the top of Australian sport. Salzwedel was almost in tears as he watched his boys ride their hearts out during the race, pointing out that Jens Voigt, Andreas Klöden and Alexandre Vinokourov had all either been in his team, or had asked to be. Another case of 'What if?'. But that's another story.
Any excuse for a party...
Not only was there plenty of action at Albion Cycles on Tuesday and Wednesday, there were also more than a few impromptu parties held in conjunction with the road racing. For example, Sean Boiling, a certain MTB nut, gave his residence up for a day to 1000 of his closest friends. The results can be seen here.
An Olympics double-header
After his tough race on Wednesday, Australian team member Matt White went to the athletics on the following day to watch his fiancee, Australian athlete Jane Saville, compete in the inaugural 20km walk event for women.
Ride Media's Rob Arnold told cyclingnews that everything was going perfectly in Jane's event with her taking the lead as she entered the Olympic Stadium, but then she was disqualified for a technical infringement only 200 metres from the line while in the Gold Medal position. With the parochial Australian crowd's cheers still ringing in her ears, she had to withdraw from the race and watch China's Wang Liping take the Gold.
The couple plan to wed on November 4 and cyclingnews wishes them well for the future. It's understood that IAAF officials may not be welcome to attend.
Protest against drug testing procedure
The chairman the KNWU and leader of the Dutch team, Joop Atsma has criticised the doping control procedure during the Olympics. "The way it is now, several countries are free to do anything," said Atsma.
After the team manager's meeting, all the teams received a list with the countries that would be tested out of competition. "No names, but a list of countries. If you know you will not be tested, you are free to do anything," he added.
The Dutch teams belongs to the tested countries. Chantal Beltman, Mirjam Melchers and Max van Heeswijk had a blood and urine test earlier this week. "There was no agreement that riders would be tested two days before the race," concluded Atsma.
Australia's official provider of Olympic Games TV coverage is Channel 7, whose best program is undeniably "The Dream" hosted by Roy Slaven and HG Nelson (around 11pm each night). These two provide a wrapup of the Games each night, poking fun at virtually everything and everyone in their distinctive satirical style. They brought 'Fatso the Fat Arsed Wombat' to fame as it was seen in the hands of more than one athlete as they were receiving their medals. The IOC/AOC/SOCOG did not approve of the usurping of the official mascots, but Fatso outrates Millie et al. any day.
Their coverage of the cycling has been quite good so far, given the logistics of keeping track of every Olympic sport. The women's road race was almost showed in its entirety for example. However, for Australian cycling fans on September 27, they were badly let down as Channel 7 stopped broadcasting in the final two (critical) laps of the race. Instead, they switched to the quarter finals of the women's basketball, where Australia was winning. A mounting sense of frustration was felt by those who were trying to follow it (yes, we were continuing our live updates).
It is expected that every country will be parochial in its coverage, but just because Stuart O'Grady fell off the back doesn't mean that the race has become devoid of interest for Australian cycling fans. They have been waiting for years for the best riders to come to Australia for this race and were unfortunately let down by most of the official channels.
If any of you would like to voice your dissatisfaction with Channel 7, then go to 'contact us' section at the bottom left of olympics.com.au and let fly. We may even get decent coverage of the TT, and a replay of the last two laps of the Road Race.
There is always Foxtel's C7 (pay TV) that reportedly showed 4 hours of the race, and was viewed around the world.